Oakland City attorney John Russo has served civil lawsuit papers to four of the 90 people arrested protesting the Mehserle ‘involuntary manslaughter’ verdict on July 8th. The lawsuit was first announced about a week before Mehserle’s sentencing on November 5th when the city expected more large-scale protests against government injustice and Mehserle’s blank check for murder. However, until recently, the threat of a civil suit seemed empty. That is, until the first of the four was served papers in the beginning of January, while incarcerated for his actions in the July 8th protests.
The Oakland 100 Support Committee has proudly supported all four of the people being targeted by this lawsuit during their criminal charges, but we don’t know exactly what will happen with these civil suits. This is mostly because every lawyer we work with who we’ve spoken to about it has been confused as to how and why the city can charge these folks in civil court, as they’ve all already been charged criminally, and generally have had to either serve jail time or pay restitution fines (or both).
The lawsuit is targeting two men, being sued for $25,000 each by the City of Oakland on behalf of JC Jewelry, a store on Broadway Ave that was emptied during the protests. The combined amount that the city is suing these two men for is most likely derived from the factual background in the civil case summons, which states that “the owners suffered over $50,000 in property loss.” However, it also states that there were “over 200 individuals during the looting activity” and that “unnamed individuals broke the security gate, kicked in the front door window, broke into JC Jewelry and proceeded to steal the owners jewelry located therein.” The two men being sued were not only arrested and held in jail for at least five months, but all items allegedly from JC Jewelry in their possession were returned to the owners. These two men being charged with $25,000 lawsuits are taking the fall for the 200 plus people who came out in outrage at the harsh injustice dished out by Cop Judge Perry’s court.
The other two people being sued have already been charged criminally for vandalism, specifically graffiti. One of them is being sued by the city for a mere $60. It’s hard to imagine that collecting $60 from an individual could even offset the cost of filing the lawsuit for the city. The other person is being sued for close to $600.
This is blatant targeting of political dissent by City Attorney John Russo, in a desperate effort to scare anyone who wants to see police held accountable and knows that convening in the streets is the only way to have their voices heard, as the people of Tunisia and Egypt have shown us in the last few weeks.